November 22nd, 2013
My layers are barely holding up as the mountain air manages to creep its way through each one somehow. I wish I would have worn better clothing but we left in such a hurry so I didn’t have time to think it through. Everything is so quiet and still, I realize I have never been out on these roads at night without being in a vehicle. The outside world is something else.
As calm as this outside world is, there is a level of intensity and urgency underlying the peacefulness of this moment. I’m with Vince and his dog Lucho waiting on the side of the road checking for any signs of another car out here. Vince is holding an empty gas canister with hopes that somehow in this fairly remote area at this hour it will be filled so we can be on our way. We are patient people but the virtue of patience is not as valuable as a ride, gas, or a veterinarian in this moment.
I look over into the immobile truck and talk a bit to Lucho who’s waiting inside. “Hang in there buddy, you’re gonna be fine, we’ll be on our way soon”. Vince has never seen him like this in the three years they’ve known each other. He’s not responding to calls, he won’t drink or eat anything, he is drooling uncontrollably and he keeps randomly jerking is head and shifting his eyes in all directions.
Vince found Lucho tied up, stranded without food and water somewhere in a Peruvian desert three years ago. He initially tried to find a local family or shelter to take him in but couldn’t. A mixture of not having the heart to desert him and falling in love with the dog, Lucho and Vince ended up sticking together, traveling around South America. Vince eventually was able to bring Lucho back home to the US by putting a fake seeing-eye dog collar on him, allowing Lucho to fly for free with Vince. Since then, they’ve traveled all around the USA and have spent every day together. They have an obvious connection and are each other’s best friends.
I turn and watch Vince attentively looking down both directions for a sign of a car. We decided our best bet was to wait for a car that could help us instead of trying to walk the 12 miles to the nearest gas station. He is focused and collected although he is living out a worst nightmare.
In what feels like hours but is really a few minutes we see headlights emerging from behind a curve a few hundred yards away. We step out onto the road with somewhat of a feeling of relief and wave the car down. Vince does the talking and I observe. He quickly explains the situation and the two girls in the front seat seem to be half-listening. It is obvious they are drunk and they tell us they just got in a car accident down the road and just sped off without saying more. The accident apparently happened a mile or two away and there is another broken down car there. We decide to leave Lucho behind and try to see if we could syphon off some gas or see if there is anyone still at the sight to help us out.
Vince spends a moment with Lucho and comforts him a bit before we set off. I can tell he is reluctant to leave him all alone in the truck out here but this is our best shot to get help. We walk at a quick pace and it feels good to get some blood moving to fight the cold air. In a few minutes we find an SUV flipped onto its side in a ditch on the shoulder. There are a few guys with headlamps pulling goods out and unhooking the stereo system. We approach them and offer to help out while also slipping in that we could use some gas too, explaining our situation. Something about the interaction seems sketchy and unusual.
They ask us if we have any money and I’m not sure what to answer. I would be willing to pay them for help but I’m wondering if they are going to try to rob us. I know most people out here carry guns and we are two white boys on an indian reservation in an area where a lot of illicit trading of goods takes place. I’ve heard some stories… We tell them we have some money if they have gas to trade and they say no without even seeming to consider it. They ask us what we’re doing there and we explain again about the sick dog and running out of gas. They either don’t seem to buy it or they don’t care as their tone switches to dominate alpha-male mode. For some reason they are trying to intimidate us and I think about the situation I somehow managed to land myself in; defenseless in the middle of the night in the presence of potentially aggressive Native American guys on their reservation.
One of the other guys pulling stuff out of the flipped vehicle distracts our tense friends by asking for help and we take the opportunity to secretly slip away into the darkness further down the road toward some lights we can make out in the distance. They’re preoccupied with their crash to call after us and we’re happy to get away with no problems.
We reach a little town, if it can be called that, of a few houses, a closed down gas station and a general store. After messing around with the pumps in vain we decide to knock on a door. It is past midnight and it could be hit or miss as far as how somebody will react to being woken up at this hour but we take our chances. We luck out and happen to have chosen to knock on the door of our guardian angel.
The kind man, still in his pajamas, greets us kindly and after hearing out our situation takes us out back to his yard to look for gas. It is like a mini junk yard full of trash, old household appliances, tires, engine parts, toys, pipes, piles of dirt… He’s got a huge gas canister but no tube to syphon out the one gallon we need to fill our little canister. We look around for a while through the frosty junk, trying to be as fast as we can, knowing Lucho has been alone in the car for a while now. Finally the man gets a knife and cuts off a tube from an old washer machine and has Vince do the siphoning.
After having received a mouthful of gas he manages to syphon off a gallon into our canister. The man goes the extra mile, literally, and drives us back to the truck. We are relieved to save the walking time of the 2 or 3 miles and to avoid having to pass the sketchy guys and their wreckage again.
Back on the road.
We have just enough gas now to get us to the slightly bigger town with a functioning gas station 12 miles away. On the way there, we both see a bear for the first time since we’ve been staying up here. The majestic beast who has haunted me for so long is illuminated for just a second by our headlights as he/she dashes across the road. For some reason it gives me a magical feeling to have seen the bear and it changes the feel of the rest of the ride to the station.
With relief we finally pull up to the 24 hour credit card only pumps and I try in vain a few times to get my credit card to work. I reach the maximum amount of attempts at entering my PIN getting it wrong each time and my card is now blocked. I’m perplexed for a minute until I realize I was supposed to actually punch in my zip code and feel stupid for needlessly creating a new obstacle in this moment of urgency.
Vince manages to remain calm in the face of this new hurdle, he doesn’t express annoyance with me but focuses on what is to be done. I’m impressed with the way he controls his stress, never taking anything out on me when I know how bad of a situation this is for him.
Before we have a chance to formulate a plan B, Vince takes off across the street where he sees a car parking. I wait by the truck with Lucho and watch from afar as he tries to convince someone to let us use their ATM card. It is easy to tell by Vince’s body language as he walks back that he was rejected, testing his nerves further. We’re both exhausted and still have a two-hour drive ahead of us to the animal clinic down in the city. Even if we manage to make it there on time, Vince will have to face yet another hurdle of convincing them to let him work out some kind of I.O.U. payment plan seeing that he doesn’t have a dollar to his name. For now, all we are focused on is getting gas into the tank.
Another car pulls up to the ATM across the street and Vince takes off immediately. A few minutes later a nice native american lady is pumping gas into our tank, telling us about how she loves animals more than people, how the world is fucked up and her life is shitty. She warns us about how dangerous it can be for a couple of guys like us to be out late here on the “Res”. She talks a bit to Lucho calling him a nice girl and we don’t bother to correct her that Lucho is male. We thank her, I give her some cash and once again we’re on our way only having made it 20 miles in the last 2 hours so far.
Bends, ups, downs, never-ending curvy roads, darkness on all sides of the limit of our headlights, a sick dog drooling in my lap. I shake him periodically to make sure he hasn’t passed out. Nothing to do but play the waiting game. Vince and I talk about everything under the sun, or moon rather. He is such an easy person to talk to; open-minded, listens well, has true interest in a diverse range of subjects. Since I met him two months ago, we’ve covered so much ground I feel like I’ve known him for years.
Time flies by so fast and suddenly we are on the coast close to the city. This is the first time I’ve seen the Pacific Ocean for months. I can see the lights of the city on the other side of Arcata Bay and I realize I haven’t been in a city in a few months either. It’s weird to see supermarkets, street lights, cars everywhere, albeit parked at this hour, everything paved. I read off the directions written sloppily in the rush on a used piece of paper. After a while we finally arrive at the clinic we set out for four hours ago only to find it closed. It’s 3:30 am, the streets are dead, the parking lot is empty and Vince can’t get through by phone.
While we are outside trying to figure out this next hurdle of the night, we see Lucho pop his head up and look around from inside the truck. Vince opens the door and Lucho jumps out, stretches and trots around the parking lot. He seems fine and probably has no idea of all that we went through to get him here. He doesn’t know where we are or what time it is, he just happily explores this new terrain, sniffs things and marks his territory here and there with pee.
Vince and I just give each other a look of relief and recognition of how ridiculous this all is and just laugh. Whatever Lucho ingested while digging through the compost pile up at the farm a few hours earlier must have only been potent enough to scare us and bring us on an impromptu adventure.
We find some random residential street to park the truck and get in our sleeping bags in the bed of the truck with a feeling of relief. My mind drifts before I fall asleep and I ponder the purpose of adventure. This whole ordeal could be considered as an inconvenience or a waste of time but there is no point in thinking that way. Since it happened, therefore it was meant to be. This unusual string of surreal encounters will be added to the experience bank in my brain, subtly changing my perception of the world and of myself. I feel happy to be alive and able to go through these experiences as random or seemingly meaningless as they might be. I feel Lucho’s warmth in between Vince and me and the pattern of his breathing lulls me to a deep sleep…